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tv   Nightline  ABC  March 6, 2014 12:37am-12:58am EST

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myself tonight ♪ ♪ whoa- come with me now ♪ whoa - come with me now i'm gonna take you down ♪ . tonight on "nightline," moment of crisis. with only minutes until disaster, these bystanders race to save three children. >> she went straight into the water. >> stuck in a car with their mother who is inexplicably drive into the atlantic ocean. >> what are they thinking about, man? >> why would she do this? and did the rescuers get those kids out in time? >> plus, this is the moment that could change everything for 17-month-old alex. for six months, we follow a family on a desperate search to
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give their child the gift of hearing with an experimental surgery. and tonight, the results. and tough love for lindsay. caught on camera. >> don't put words in my mouth. that's exactly not what i signed up for. >> oprah giving lindsay lohan rather stern advice. >> you need to cut the [ bleep ] you really do.
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>> good evening. you're about to see a potential disaster unfol. a pregnant woman with three children in her minivan, driving directly into the atlantic association. with one of the kids leaning out the window yelling help us, bystanders leap into action with only seconds to prevent a worst case scenario. and all the while, there was a camera rolling.
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. >> imagine driving past a beach and seeing this, a car deliberately driving into the ocean. >> are they saying help? >> help! >> reporter: then suddenly you hear the screams of young children. >> if they're saying help, that's different. >> you sit still! >> reporter: tim tessier jumped out of the car to help. his wife recording it all. >> a wid cuz screaming help us, help us, our mom is trying to kill us. that's when it turned into a race against time to save three little children from a watery grave. >> all i was worried about was those kids. they were screaming and their outskrech outstretched arms. i don't know, i did what was natur natural. >> 21-year-old stacy robin was also there, pleading with the
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kids' 32-year-old mother ebony will kerrson to turn the call around. >> snatching at the wheel trying to get her to come towards shore. >> lady, you have to get out of the water. she looked back at us with this awful blank stare, just, i've been using the word posessed. i hate to use that. >> we're okay, we're okay. the son was tugging on the wheel. when i was speaking to her, her eyes was -- >> was wide? >> wide. >> reporter: they say she just kept driving. stacy never lets go of the car. the surf is up to his chest. he reaches into the fan to get the power windows down and his arms around two of the children, ages 9 and 10. >> i pulled the son out first and the daughter and i came walking out with both of them. i still don't believe it happened. i'm just glad i was there. >> reporter: people watching from the shore can't believe their eyes. >> the waves were just pounding into the water and down until it submerged.
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>> while a passing tourist captured it all on video. in the middle of the chaos, a shocking discovery. there was still another child, the youngest, a 3-year-old, still trapped in a car seat in the back. lifeguards try to open the front door, but it looks like the mother is attempting to stop them. watch again, there's a struggle and then the mother just walks away. seconds later, they get the toddler out through the back. >> god, there's a baby in the car. >> one of the two lifeguards still inside, barely getting out in time. >> watching them carry the kids out of the van was very emotional. we were jumping up for joy and screaming for goodness, yeah. >> reporter: just five seconds later, look closely. a huge wave that nearly pushes the car out to sea. >> the waves were strong, the water was gold. they got them out of the water quickly. if it had been minutes longer, the outcome probably would have been different. >> reporter: late today, authorities reported that
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wilkerson was pregnant and she had been in contact with police just hours before the incident. her sister called 911 to warn them about wilkerson's potential mental health issues. >> i tried to take her to the hospital yesterday and she signed herself out today. she's getting a little bit better, but she's still not all here. she's trying to drive and i'm trying to stop her. and she has her kids. so i took her keys. >> she had some crisis, but they did not meet the criteria to be able to do anything with her at that time. >> reporter: a few hours later, she ended up here. she's undergoing mental evaluations. her children are all in state custody. safe because a few heroes took action in the nick of time. >> i uh hugged them and said you're going to be okay, i promise. the kids, his arms were outstretched and begging for help. that's just something, i thought about that all the way -- i went
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and drove all the way home last night and that's all i could think about. >> steve osunsami, daytona beach. >> kudos to the men who took action. coming up next here, the little boy born into silence. the experimental surgery that might change everything, and the moment his family learns whether it worked. and later on "nightline," what provoked oprah to lay into lindsay lohan on camera. >> you need to cut the [ bleep ] you really do. [poof!] [beep] [clicks mouse] nice office. how you doing? good.
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>> tonight, you're going to mid a toddler who was born into a world of silence and parents who refused to let it stay that way. we followed their journey for over half a year as they took a game billiel on a radical new surgery. >> reporter: a tuesday morning in boston.
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17-month-old alex is being prepped for what is certainly the biggest day in his young life. in this hospital room with him, his mother, stephanie, and his dad phil. alex cannot hear. but if all goes well in the next few hours, that all could change. along with the frederick family this day is a team of doctors from massachusetts general and massachusetts eye and ear infirmary, plus a surgeon from italy who flew in just for the operation. >> it's not even approved yet here in the u.s. for children, but one that everyone hopes will make it possible for him to hear. as they escortal lex down to the operating room, it is still only a gamble whether this will work. all they know for certain is
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he'll be in there for the next 5 1/2 hours. but in a way, alex parents' have been waiting all hi short life for this moment. the day that newborn alex came home from the hospital, he had already faced a lifetime of challenge. just four pounds, four ounces, alex arrived two months premature and spent the first month of his life here in the neonatal intensive care unit of the st. john hospital. >> i felt that i didn't do something perfectly during the pregnancy. i had two healthy kids in the beginning and all of a sudden our third child has all these issues and we didn't know what was going on. i don't know. i was overwhelmed. >> reporter: but at least his parents knew then he was going to make it. what they did not know at first was what he was still up against. scans would show that little alex had a heart condition and his vision appeared to be compromised. anticipa and then there was the matter of his hearing. alex failed this hearing test that all newborns get and then a second one two months later.
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>> that was a blow. the most difficult part for me was the first part where he failed his first hearing screen. i really thought this was going to go fine. for me, that was my most heart wrenching point. >> they had to learn about raising a child who could not hear. new ways to communicate other than calling his name. being able to pick up signals from him that had nothing to do with sound and figuring out how to adapt in general to the ways in which he would be different to the rest of the family. like the day phil watched his oldest daughter, alex sister's evelyn as she played with her baby brother. >> she wanted to get a response from him. something she was doing with a toy. i said evelyn, he can't hear. he may not see what you're trying to hand him. she said no, i don't want that for him. how is he ever going to play with us or how is he ever going to play with anyone. >> when alex was 1-year-old, they tried a cochlear implant, a 40-year-old technology that uses electrodes to stimulate auditory
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nerve, but that implant surgery did not work due to the irregular structure of his inner ear. >> he walked in and he goes i have bad news. it didn't work. >> he said it was the first time in 25 years that he's been doing the surgery that he could not -- >> first time in 25 years he couldn't do it. on your kid. >> yeah. >> reporter: through all this, life for alex went on as a constant round of visits to specialists. more tests for his heart. and then beginning classes in sign language. >> more. of. >> and still for his parent, it's only sinking in what all this meant. >> there are things that were going to happen for his life that i won't be there, i wouldn't understand. i wouldn't know how to help them through those situations where he needed help. >> which is why phil kept looking for some other answer, some other technology. he spent hours online. and then he learned about an
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approach that had been pioneered in italy for use in children by a doctor, one that was going to undergo clinical trials here in the u.s. to win fda approval. it's call eed abi. it gets implanted on the actual brain stem to pick up signals from a tiny microphone worn on the ear and relay them inside as electrical signals that relay to the area of the brain that interprets sound. this is one of dr. caletti's success stories. a young woman, previously deaf, now carrying on a phone conversation. but it must be noted it took her years to be able to do this after the abi was placed inside her head. >> that's really remarkable. >> that's the reason that motivated me. >> here's another abi patient.
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a b a boy bhwhose case proves that r children who's never heard, getting the device is only the start of hearing. it takes years to understand what hearing means. andrea even learned to play the guitar. phil heard about the abi and decided he needed to get alex in line for one of these trials. he sat down and started sending out e-mails. >> we ended up finding three different places who were doing the trials. and phil contacted them all. >> finally he heard back last august. there was an opening in the trial being run at the massachusetts eye and ear infirmary in boston under the direction of dr. daniel lee. >> abi surgery in a child who cannot get a cochlear implant can result in meaningful sound awareness and speech perception with time, but it takes work. >> the good news. the alex is exactly the kind of kid the trial needs.
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>> it is october 5, 2013. we're leafing fr ingleaving fro hopefully by tomorrow afternoon, we will be in boston. >> and so the fred rake ericks their way from their michigan home, full of fear but also full of hope. >> welcome to massachusetts. >> on that tuesday morning in boston where we began with alex, it is now the second hour of his surgery. surgery that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. but is being paid for by the family's insurance company. this is video the hospital provided of the abi being implanted into his brain. while this is going on, alex's parents take his sisters who a nearby park to keep them distracted. but the hospital calls in with regular updates. >> when did you get the last call from him? >> 13 minutes ago. >> they were actually at the brain stem and using the electrodes to figure out where to place the abi on the brain stem. >> after 5 1/2 hour, they wheel
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alex into intensive care. under that cap of bandages on his head, the clusters of wires that the doctors hope will allow him to hear. >> it looks good. >> reporter: but still, it is only a beginning. >> one of the joys of doing something like this is working with other people who all are as committed to the outcome as each of us individually are. >> it is now several weeks later. healed and healthy, alex returns to have his abi switched on for the very first time. those wires connect the device inside his head to a sound generator controlled from this doctor's computer. in a moment, they will switch it all with everyone hoping and watching to see if he reacts. are you first, the door opens because phil and stephanie have decided they want the first thing alex to hear to be his sisters' voices. >> can you say hi? hi alex. >> hi alex. >> the device is now on.

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